By Caroline Kibii
Climate change stopped being a myth. It became a reality. We are feeling the effects. Our health is facing a huge threat.
Rarely do we think climate change could turn human health upside down. It is challenging making most people understand how the changing climate is a major issue of concern. Some people view it as fictional; they think it is a creation in human minds.
Truth be told, climate change has a hand in the increasing cases of malaria. For a long time, malaria has been a killer disease in our country especially in the lowlands.
A study by the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that lack of enhanced control measures, climate change has a potential of increasing malaria prevalence in most parts of Kenya. In regions where malaria is already dominant, there is a high likelihood of increased transmission intensity and longer transmission periods.
A new projection indicates that malaria will spread into new areas, specifically highland areas, places with higher altitudes. Because of low immunity and low active monitoring, people living in altitudes beyond 1,100 meters are at high risk as outlined by World Health Organization. Climate variability and lack of preparedness will heighten the risk.
Presently between 13 and 20 million Kenyans are vulnerable to malaria. World Health Organization says the figures will rise because climate change is facilitating malaria transmission up the highland areas. Warmer temperatures attract disease-carrying vectors to regions they never existed before.
Prolonged drought is a result of climate change. The recent dry spell, January to March 2015 was a serious experience where you could hardly see any green leaves or trees. Animals died. People died. Accessing water points was a problem.
The rains then followed in April. The intensity of rainfall was high to an extent most places including the capital city of Nairobi experienced prolonged floods. Mombasa, Nyando and other places were flooding. Obviously, floods facilitate breeding places for disease causing vectors and waterborne diseases. Stagnation of flood waters cause contamination, which provide an avenue for diarrhea, typhoid and dysentery. Mosquitoes also breed well in such places and spread malaria.
Agriculture being the backbone of our economy, it does not thrive well during long drought periods. The changing weather patterns have turned most parts of the country to be food insecure. Relying on rain-fed agriculture has proven to be a huge problem in drier areas.
Because of food insecurity, malnutrition has gripped in. Balanced diet is a luxury to most people. Accessing even one meal, a day is a problem especially in the Northern parts of Kenya. We have seen children who are malnourished due to lack of food. Often, diseases such as kwashiorkor take advantage of such individuals; we end up losing lives.
When you have not taken any meal, we do not expect you to be energetic enough to hit the road in search of water and food for your family. How can a hungry person walk for 20 kilometers to fetch water?
Disasters after disasters have been occurring across the globe. The recent Indian heat wave in May 2015 that claimed more than 2000 lives is attributed to high temperatures. Australia was also a victim of heat waves in 2014. We may not have witnessed this literally but the high temperatures during dry seasons may be a warning sign to harder times ahead. Who knows what will happen tomorrow. We could be the next victims. We have been experiencing wild fires in our forests.
If climate change is not addressed immediately then we are yet to encounter many health implications. The government should allow the health sector representatives to participate in making decisions, during budget allocations and policy making sessions.
Nevertheless, it is possible to minimize the adverse health effects by developing mitigation and adaptation strategies. Mitigation means acting on reducing greenhouse gas emission into the atmosphere. It requires a collaborative approach. The gaseous particles in the airspace could contribute to respiratory allergies. It interferes with air quality.
We are not ready as a country to respond to disasters. Responding to floods or drought has been a nightmare. What would happen if a heat wave struck? I believe prevention is better than cure and preparedness is not an option.
Instead of rewarding our politicians with huge sums of money in the name of sitting allowances, we should accumulate that money and procure machines to help in predicting and responding to disasters. More professionals should be sponsored to acquire technical expertise to handle disasters. The problem with us is that, we are used to acting when the problem has already occurred, when we have lost lives and property.
The complexity of addressing climate change effects is that different parts of the world experience different implications. For instance, people living in the floodplains will experience rivers or lakes flooding.
Increased global temperatures do not know tribe or race. Floods will not select a few; it will sweep everyone irrespective of the social class. We share oxygen, when it is contaminated with greenhouse gases, we shall all be affected. Not unless you have your own air, control the atmospheric temperatures and rainfall, you are not immune.
The writer is an environmentalist